Book of Mormon Title Page or Focus of the Book
Today’s readers think of the Book of Mormon as another testament of Christ. This rote thought is tied to the subtitle for the book added at the October 1982 conference of the Church. Spencer W. Kimball was president at the time, so this was added with his imprimatur. However, this subtitle skips over the first two priorities Mormon and Moroni gave the book and misstates the third. These priorities are stated in the subscriptio written by Moroni, what is today’s title page. 1
Before considering what the title page does and does not say, the nature of a subscriptio deserves attention. The translated portion of the title page is a subscriptio typical of ancient near-Eastern records:
[T]he cultural dependence of Greek civilization on the ancient Near East, [has been seen in] the practice of writing on bronze plates [among] the Phoenicians . . . . the seventh or sixth century [B.C.]” [is] the period in which the terminology and the practice of writing on bronze plates was transmitted from the Phoenicians to the Greeks. [Footnote omitted.] . . . this is precisely the time and place in which the Book of Mormon claims that there existed similar bronze plates which contained the “ancient sacred laws” of the Hebrews, the close cultural cousins of the Phoenicians.
. . . “the practice of the subscriptio in particular . . . connects the layout of later Greek books with cuneiform practice, the indication of the name of the writer/ author and the title of the book right at the end . . . a detailed and exclusive correspondence which proves that Greek literary practice is ultimately dependent upon Mesopotamia. . . . Joseph Smith wrote that “the title-page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left-hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated.” [Footnote omitted.] This idea would have been counterintuitive in the early nineteenth century when title pages appeared at the beginning, not the end, of books. 2
The title page, probably written by Moroni, 3 that appears in the 1981 and later versions of the Book of Mormon is different than earlier editions. The words are the same, but the punctuation has been modified. 4 Punctuation, of course, affects meaning, so one should be careful and thoughtful when deciding what is said on the basis of a particular version or any version of the title page.
The images below are from the last edition of the book edited by Joseph Smith, the 1841 edition (which is identical in the two editions prior to 1841) and the 1921 edition (which is the same as the current editions). Comparing these two versions of the title page underscores the difficulty of understanding Moroni’s view of what the book is about, the purpose of this subscriptio-turned-title-page.
There is a surfeit of semicolons in the 1841 and earlier versions. These semicolons are replaced by em-dashes and periods in the 1921 edition. 5 Unfortunately, the various punctuation schemes obfuscate the why of the book. The purposes, however, can be clarified if the language is reformatted with different paragraphing and punctuation.
A reformatted—differently punctuated and paragraphed—title page shows the three purposes of the book. Presentism presumes the most important purpose is listed first, but the chiastic formula found in the Book of Mormon militates in favor of the first and third purposes providing support for the central or second purpose. Moroni’s upbringing 6 and his writing, which does not follow the chiasmus style, weighs in favor of viewing his subscriptio as a list of the priorities, the first being the most important and the last being a warning. In any event, none of the purposes cast the book as another witness of Christ; indeed, the title page does not say the book is another witness of Christ.
Neither the first nor latest versions of the title page are satisfactory. So a different version with different paragraphing and different punctuation follows on the next page. The bolded language highlights the sentences without the distracting parentheticals and asides typical of ancient writing. The bolded portions can and should be read aloud to gather the sense of Moroni’s intent.
BOOK OF MORMON
AN ACCOUNT WRITTEN BY
THE HAND OF MORMON
TAKEN FROM THE PLATES OF NEPHI
Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites. Written to the Lamanites (who are a remnant of the house of Israel) and also to Jew and Gentile (written by way of commandment and, also, by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation; written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord) that they 7 might not be destroyed. To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof. (Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile, the interpretation thereof by the gift of God. 8)
An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also (which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to heaven), which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel 9 what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.
And also [written] to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ: the Eternal God [is] manifesting himself unto all nations.
And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ. 10
The abridgment created by Mormon and Moroni did not include the Small Plates of Nephi, the shorter record translated as the first part of the modern-day Book of Mormon. The unabridged Small Plates begun by Lehi’s son, Nephi, circa 570 or so bc 11, were found by Mormon, and he liked them, so he appended them to his abridgement. 12 Moroni’s title page, however, embraces the message of the Small Plates for two reasons.
First, they were appended to the abridgment before Nephi inscribed the last leaf of the plates given to Joseph Smith. The subscriptio translated by Joseph Smith was from the very last leaf of the plates he translated, so the Small Plates were added to the rings of the record just before, apparently, this last leaf.
I wish also to mention here, that the Title Page of the Book of Mormon is a literal translation, taken from the very last leaf, on the left hand side of the collection or book of plates, which contained the record which has been translated; and not by any means the language of the whole running same as all Hebrew writing in general; and that, said Title Page is not by any means a modern composition either of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation. 13
Second, Mormon gave three reasons for attaching them to his abridgment which militate in favor of making the title page applicable, from Mormon’s perspective to the Small Plates. Mormon must have known that the purpose Nephi and the subsequent readers had in mind for the Small Plates was not as a political tract, 14 but Mormon’s purposes involved likening these writings to his purposes. First, Mormon’s forefathers knew the prophecies about the coming of Christ had been fulfilled. Second, Mormon knew the prophecies about the Nephites down to his day had been fulfilled. Third, Mormon saw that the Small Plates contributed to the warning to those living in the latter days and, like his abridgment, explained how the early Nephites escaped destruction at the hand of Laman, Lemuel, and their posterity.
4And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me (1) because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled, yea, and (2) [because] I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and (3) [because] as many [things as have been prophesied] as go beyond this day must surely come to pass, 5wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them. 15
Essential to understanding the ambit of the subscriptio vis-à-vis the Small Plates is gleaning what the Small Plates are about as opposed to how Mormon likened them for his purposes. The Small Plates provide collateral support what Mormon was doing even though they, clearly, present a different message than Mormon intended by his abridgment. This exegesis explores this difference by analyzing, for example, the reason Nephi wrote two books instead of just one. Jacob’s writings, likewise, have a specific purpose that he, Jacob, added to Nephi’s work. Enos is unique among the corpus of scriptures because it is a personal essay that is little understood by readers, but only tangentially supports Mormon’s purpose. 16 Jarom compares the Nephites before a re-conversion to the gospel and afterward, so it fits one of Moroni’s purposes more directly than the preceding writings from the Small Plates. Omni has nothing to do with Mormon’s purposes.
The reformatted and re-punctuated title page adds clarity, perhaps, about Moroni identified as three purposes for the abridgment he and his father made.
First and, perhaps, most importantly, the abridgment was written “to the Lamanites . . . and also to the Jew and gentile . . . that they might not be destroyed.”
Second, an abridgment from Ether “to show [the] great things the Lord hath done” so the Israelite remnant “may know the covenants of the Lord [and] that they are not cast off forever.”
Third, “and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ [because or by the fact that] the Eternal God [is] manifesting himself unto all nations.”
1. Thefirst purpose of the abridgements. The first and presumably most important purpose of the abridgements made by Mormon and Moroni is so the Lamanites, Jews, and gentiles—everyone—in our day might not be destroyed. So the reader should expect examples of people avoiding destruction or being destroyed. And there are. The political battles between the Lamanites and the Nephites—the wicked and the righteous—present concrete examples of how not to be destroyed. Following the gospel and keeping the commandments is the prophylactic. The reader, then, should not wonder why there are so many wars and battles described in the Book of Mormon. Those wars and battles were because of political differences between the factions then, which is the same soil out of which riots and unrest grow today, speaking of the early 21st Century. As then, riots and unrest are what Satan wants, not what the Savior enjoins. As then, the remedy is the same, converting citizens to and living the gospel of Christ. 17
The solution is the same now, but the execution must be different. The leaders then were the educated and literate, so it was the then leaders who undertook conversion work: talking to people about religion so they would be converted to peacefulness. 18 Almost everyone is literate in today’s first-world regions, and the free-flow of information and communication are unlike anything then, so the onus of conversion to peacefulness necessarily falls on those who are often unwitting participants on the stage of ideas—electronic interactions. The right seeds of ideas and perspectives need to be planted and nourished. Those in a position to affect the course of discussion need to be educated so they can hoe and seed furrows with the truth that fosters peace and incites people to make the right choices when it comes to the political matters that were so divisive then and still are now. This divisiveness can be and should be stanched with the truths of the gospel.
The schoolroom for the truth that effects peace, of course, is the Church. Church meetings where individuals seeking a common telos can discuss and reach a consensus on the political ramifications of candidates and choices compatible with the teachings found in the Bible, thus following the instructions on how not to be destroyed found in the Book of Mormon. It is from church meetings that those imbued with correct principles and perspective can spread the light and peace of the gospel of peace to others so that they, too, will make the right choices—being of one heart and one mind—that will prevent our destruction. 19 In other words, the Book of Mormon urges discussions and counseling in church about politics and how to effectively apply the principles of the gospel to the modern-day political world. 20
The how of not being destroyed is demonstrated in the Book of Mormon by, inter alia, the effect of the Savior’s visit and the resulting conversion of the people to His gospel. The resulting righteousness led to peace, not destruction. It is this effect-by-conversion that is the important part of His visit. After all, what He taught the Nephites is found in the Bible, 21 but the Book of Mormon adds what happens after conversion to the Lord, which the Bible does not. It is the peace and tranquility described in the last part of 3 Nephi and the first part of 4 Nephi that today’s people must emulate to avoid the destruction described at the end of 4 Nephi and Mormon. This how-not-to-be-destroyed formula is the primary motivation for Mormon’s abridgement. 22
2. The second purpose, the Book of Ether. The book of Ether abridgement follows Mormon’s. Moroni added his abridgment of Ether to the book. 23 Moroni had a purpose. Ether, Moroni says, is there for the House of Israel. The remnant of the House of Israel, to be precise.
An abridgment taken from the Book of Ether also (which is a record of the people of Jared, who were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, when they were building a tower to get to heaven), which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.
This limited purpose of the book—showing the remnant of the house of Israel, etc.—is a generalization because the book includes editorial comments Moroni addressed to more than merely members of the House of Israel. 24 These editorial comments explain what Moroni intended by his abridgment of Ether and its inclusion with the abridgment of Mormon: the curse on the wicked who live on the land, the importance of knowledge, the effect of unbelief (as distinguished from iniquity), freedom destroying combinations, and the need to follow the Savior to avoid destruction.
The purpose of the book as stated by Moroni in the title page may be an after thought to protect the house of Israel from hubris, but house of Israel may be how Moroni described the Lord’s Church in our modern-day. After all, Ether does not describe blessings to members of the house of Israel.
Ether is a record of the Jaredites, so named because “Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and . . . they were scattered.” 25 The Tower of Babel events are recorded in Genesis 11, circa 2700 bc 26 long before there was a House of Israel, meaning the descendants of Jacob, circa 1800 bc, 27 whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob, the father of the House of Israel, was the son of Rebekah and was persuaded by his mother to masquerade as Esau to obtain the firstborn’s birthright and blessing at the hands of Isaac, his father. 28 None of the Jaredites were descendants of Jacob, so the Jaredites were never members of the House of Israel. 29 The book of Ether was not included to help the non-existent remnant of the Jaredites.
The Jaredites owed their salvation from the confusion of tongues and scattering to the brother of Jared’s statute with the Lord, “a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord.:” 30 It was because of the prayers of the brother of Jared at the behest of Jared that the language of their families and their friends were not confounded, 31 Jared, who seems to have been a political leader, then asked his brother, who seems to have the role of a prophet, to find out where the Lord would send the un-confounded, and hoped it would be to a choice land, and the Lord listened and had compassion on the people 32 The Lord answer’s the prayer of Jared’s brother, resulting in the gathering of their family and friends and flocks and seeds who all travel to the Valley of Nimrod where the Lord meets them. 33 The promise is given that they will be a great nation, none greater because they asked. 34
3. The third purpose of the abridgments. The third purpose for Mormon’s and Moroni’s abridgments is obscured by syntax, punctuation, and the recent refrain that it is the most correct book on earth that will enable a person to get closer to God than any other book. 35 The subtitle, itself, says it is another witness for Christ. But neither of these ideas were what Moroni saw as the purpose of the redaction he and his father prepared for us today.
The restructuring proposed supra at 144 helps with what is otherwise an amphibology in published Books of Mormon and how readers interpret Moroni’s third purpose, presuming the modern-day reader even supposes there are three purposes.
The concluding participial phrase is the problem. It is grammatically detached from the rest of the sentence by its presentation in the published book, si the phrase is ignored by those—almost everyone—who cannot figure out what to do with it. If the participial phrase is the object of the sentence, then the meaning could be this, “The abridgment is to convince everyone that Jesus is . . . manifesting himself to all nations.” The problem with this view is the excision of the Eternal God. So a better reading could be this:
And also [written] to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ: The Eternal God [is] manifesting himself unto all nations.
But this reading is not satisfactory at all. It leaves the bolded portion of the foregoing paraphrase dangling, untied to what precedes it and, likewise, disjointed from what follows.
The colon after Christ can be read two ways because the function of a colon is to call attention to what follows. So it may be appropriate to substitute the word because in place of the colon or the words by the fact that. The book is, then, to be seen as a pre-millennial sign of the times as prophesied in Revelation: 36
And also [written] to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ [by the fact that] the Eternal God [is] manifesting himself unto all nations.
This view changes the importance and sense of the sentence by making God’s manifestation via the Book of Mormon the witness God makes in our day of His Son. God remains supreme over his Son and introduces his Son by the manifestation to all nations that comes by the reality of the Book of Mormon.
An experiment militates in favor of this morphology even though it is inconsistent with the view of most members of the Church, who think of the Book as a means to convince the Jews and Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ. Such members are myopic.
Ask Bible-belt Baptists if the Book of Mormon will convince or help them be convinced that Jesus is the Christ. No. Ask other Christian Protestants the same question. No. Such people do not need to be convinced because they already are.
What about those who are not? A faithful—both personally and as a member of the Church—friend of mine regularly visits countries where Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc. are prevalent. Discussing this last part of Moroni’s subscriptio and asking him which he thought, the Bible or the Book of Mormon, had a better chance of convincing these non-Christians of the divinity of Christ, his answer was immediate: the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is a recognized historical document, and its historicity gives it a patina of genuineness and reliability the Book of Mormon does not have unless the reader of the Book of Mormon is conversant with the Bible.
What about a Jew? There are anecdotes of Jews being converted after studying or just reading the Book of Mormon. A personal friend and expert on Isaiah told this author that he read the Book of Mormon while at the Jerusalem University studying to be a rabbi. 37 The book startled him. Its Judaisms caused him to wonder about the Christ of the New Testament and the Church that was promulgating this book about the Savior in the Americas. He converted to the Church. He became convinced that Jesus is the Christ after reading the Book of Mormon.
Anecdotes of someone accepting Christ after reading the Book of Mormon, however, do not support the conclusion that Moroni had such anecdotal effects in mind when he wrote his subscriptio. Moroni had a broader, explicit view in mind. He viewed the Book of Mormon as a demonstration that the Savior manifested Himself to more than just the Jews in the Holy Land.
Positing the purpose of the Book of Mormon based on supposed and thoughtless effects on those who already believe and those who do not believe because of the words Jesus is the Christ etc. ignores the tag-end participial, present-tense phrase. Moroni, seeing our day, wrote as though he was in our day, telling us that the Book of Mormon will convince the Jew and the Gentile of the one irrefragable effect of the Book of Mormon: Jesus is manifesting Himself to all nations today. The Mormon missionaries are testifying of Christ all around the world, like the fire Ezekiel saw coming forth from the remnant of the House of Israel saved from the destruction of the Diaspora (Lehi and his family) but ultimately destroyed anyway, the Nephites. 38
The typical reader today, of course, does not view the book as a sign of the times, but that is what the early members of the Church thought. They saw it as a proof of the commencement of final work before the Millennium, and converts came from among those, like Sidney Rigdon and his Campbellite following who believed the Savior would return following a period of successful evangelism to prepare the world for His return. The appearance of the Book of Mormon was a sign of the times—hence the trumpeting angel Moroni holding the Book of Mormon on some LDS temples—for these people and impelled them into the Church. 39
After 1830, Latter-day Saints felt empowered to go beyond the skills of personal observation and scriptural exegesis alone. They had in their possession a recovered record whose very existence was seen as prophetic proof that the final dispensation was truly arrived. Even before its first page was opened, they believed, the Book of Mormon by its miraculous provenance proclaimed that heaven-inspired preparations were afoot. And when readers did study its message, what they found was confirmation of its outward meaning. Actual invocation and interpretation of Book of Mormon passages by early LDS Church writers [and speakers] was relatively uncommon. But in this instances where official church publications do provide commentary on selected passages, “what stands out in bold relieve . . . is the thematic preeminence of . . . the restoration of Israel.” [Footnote omitted.] When the Book of Mormon was cited or described, it was to teach the doctrine of gathering and an imminent Second Coming. It was not happenstance that the principal LDS periodical for many years, edited by [Franklin D.] Richards was titled Millennial Star. 40
The closing message to Mormon’s abridgment, 41 3 Nephi 29–ch.30, is a warning about the manifestations of the Lord’s power that can be expected in our day because of the wickedness of the people. We can expect destruction if the doings of the Lord are spurned in our day: destruction by the sword of the Lord’s justice:
4And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you. 42
The manifestation of the Lord and His power, then, is the slashing of His sword of destruction. In other words, lots of woe—manifesting—for the wicked. The righteous will recognize this manifesting for what it is: the work of the Lord. Helaman’s son, Nephi, as the author of 3 Nephi describes the woe the wicked see in our day in poetic, mostly distich form with a striking anaphora:
5Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea,
wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works! 6Yea,
wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord,
and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation,
or by prophecy,
or by gifts,
or by tongues,
or by healings,
or by the power of the Holy Ghost!
7Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain,
that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ;
for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition,
for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!
8Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews,
nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel;
for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them,
and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.
9Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left,
that he may not execute judgment
unto the fulfilling of the covenant
which he hath made unto the house of Israel. 43
The third purpose of the Book of Mormon as Moroni saw it tracks this declamation by Nephi, the woes and results of those who spurn the manifestations—rehearsed in the foregoing anaphora—of the Savior in our day. It is the doings of the Lord—revelations, prophecy, gifts, tongues, healings and the power of the Holy Ghost—that are the convincing manifestations made irrefragable by the appearance of the Book of Mormon. Not anything that the book says in particular, but the miraculous appearance of the book itself and the resulting focus on the signs of the times that the appearance of the book should provoke.
The subtitle, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, detracts from latter-day manifestations of the power and coming of the Lord. It was announced at the October 1982 general conference of the Church when Spencer W. Kimball was president. He felt, apparently, that the purpose of the Book of Mormon centered around Christ—another testament of Christ—even though this is not what Moroni said was the purpose of the book vis-à-vis Christ. Another Testament of Christ is a gloss. It is a misunderstanding of what Moroni said. This misunderstanding is clear from what was stated in the Church News:
Since 1982 all editions of the Book of Mormon have appeared with the subtitle: “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
At that time Church leaders felt a need to further emphasize the purpose of the book as stated on the title page: “…And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations . . .” “With the subtitle added to the Book of Mormon, the purpose of the book, ‘to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST,’ will become immediately apparent to all who hereafter receive the Book of Mormon,” said President Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Council of the Twelve.
Additionally, according to Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve, the subtitle clarifies the Book of Mormon’s place among scriptures. He said in an interview at that time: “The Book of Mormon has been misunderstood. With the subtitle, it takes its place where it should be—beside the Old Testament and the New Testament.”
The subtitle, approved by President Spencer W. Kimball to put the purpose of the book “in full view,” was announced in an address by Elder Packer at the October 1982 general conference. 44
The addition of this subtitle, however, has the opposite effect of a full-view statement of the purpose of the book. 45 The subtitle overlooks the firstness of the first two purposes and, just as unfortunate, obfuscates the third by pretermitting the modifying participial phrase. The participial phrase is, without doubt, the third purpose. 46